It's the second annual Data Privacy Day. The United States, Canada and 27 European countries worked Wednesday to drive awareness and generate discussion about data-privacy practices and rights.
In conjunction with the event, Microsoft commissioned focus-group research to determine which privacy issues are most important to consumers. The Harris Interactive survey highlights the most common forms of online fraud attacks and consumers' awareness of how to avoid them.
Nearly one out of five persons surveyed has been a victim of at least one Internet scam. Of those people, 81 percent admitted they did something that led to the crime, such as opening an e-mail that appeared to be from a legitimate person or company. More than half of the respondents (58 percent) admitted they had little to no knowledge of current online threats and scams.
Consumers Don't Understand Threats
While many consumers are very concerned about protecting online privacy, they typically have only a surface understanding of the threats they face, according to Microsoft Chief Privacy Strategist Peter Cullen. People take basic steps such as using spam filters, deleting cookies, and installing antivirus software, he said, but they're not necessarily aware of what these technologies do.
"People also have a perception that once their information is online, there isn't much they can do to protect it," Cullen said. "Many people aren't aware of the controls they have, such as the ability to opt out of behaviorally targeted advertising or new tools in Internet browsers."
What's more, specific concerns and risks change depending on how people use the Internet. Cullen offered an example: Threats to privacy from social-networking sites are a large concern for young people and, increasingly, middle-aged professionals. Online finance issues, on the other hand, may affect older people more.
"What these findings tell us is that we must do more to educate consumers. People are making privacy decisions all the time and may not even know it. They must have the right resources from industry, government and nongovernmental organizations so they can better educate themselves about privacy, threats to personal information, and ways to safely navigate online," Cullen said. "Much like a medical condition, consumers need to understand how the illness occurs, instead of just what medicine to take."
Where do companies and consumers stand in the fight against cybercriminals? Progress has been made, but trends suggest that criminals will continue to build malware to steal personal information through social-engineering schemes and software vulnerabilities. The total amount of malware and potentially unwanted software removed from computers worldwide increased more than 43 percent during the first half of 2008.
"The threats continue to be sophisticated and continue to escalate at a rate that is much greater than even the security industry is able to respond to; at this point even doing normal Web browsing can lead to compromise," said Ken Dunham, director of global response for iSight Partners.
"Without a doubt there is some value in user-awareness training and for consumers to have awareness of different threats, but the reality is they are never going to be able to keep up with the pace of cybercrime online," he said.